By Michael Setton, founder and CEO of Sensaris
Protection of the atmosphere is an environmental issue that will affect policies as diverse as energy, transport and land development. Although emissions of key air pollutants have decreased in recent years, the economic costs of air and noise pollution for cities are still growing. In terms of human health, in its publication “Preventing disease through healthy environments – towards an estimate of the global burden of disease”, 2006, the World Health Organization indicates that 24% of global disease is due to the “modifiable” part of our environment. Currently, most environmental measurements are performed by a limited number of fixed sensors disseminated within urban areas. For example, there are only 2,300 stations reporting air quality to the European Environmental Agency. The cost of establishing and implementing ordinary monitoring systems is extremely high; use of analytical instruments are time-consuming, expensive, and can seldom be applied for real-time monitoring in the field, even though these can give a precise analysis . In Japan, NTT DoCoMo has started a project to put environmental sensors on their base stations to gather climate and air quality information. The sensor system has already been deployed at rowing machine reviews several hundred sites in Tokyo, with 2,500 sites set for deployment across the country within fiscal 2010 ending March 2011. Eventually, 9,000 sites will be deployed nationwide, but at over $ 9k per unit these systems are too expensive for worldwide dissemination. Bringing the vision of public involvement in environmental monitoring to a reality poses today substantial technical challenges for the ICT systems infrastructure, to scale up from isolated well controlled systems to an interoperable, Internet based scalable infrastructure where heterogeneous mobile and fixed sensors generate large amounts of data. The pioneering Greenhaviour project is leading the way for mobile environmental monitoring. Even though only CO2 information is broadcasted for the time being, the IBM team also simultaneously collects ambient noise level, CO, NOx, humidity and temperature information. To prepare for future data gathering in smart cities, Sensaris has also developed other products such as UV or ozone sensors and it started an R&D project to enable 3D mapping as well. As real time sensor data collection and transmission with smartphones become part of our “smarter planet”, there is no doubt that the next challenge will be to process and extract actionable information with infrastructures such as stream processing.